Jump to content
abatt

Wheeldon Creating New Nutcracker for the Joffrey

Recommended Posts

I am so sad about this -- it's a lovely production. Joffrey was such a dance scholar, and had done an astonishing amount of homework on this ballet. I can understand Wheeldon wanting to make his own, but why does it have to mean the loss of this work?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a shame to lose this production. I kind of wish that if the Joffrey felt they needed a change that they would have rescued the Stowall-Sendak (sp?) production.

My automatic snarky response generator clicked on when I read the NYT story

linked above:

1. Helgi Tomasson used the World's Fair concept in San Francisco just a little while ago. Why relocate it to Chi-town? If I were on the SF Ballet legal staff I would file a cease and desist order just for the publicity value.

2. I hope that Wheeldon isn't going to use the Erik Larson bestseller, "Devil in the White City" as a source of inspiration. It would just be too revolting. http://www.amazon.com/The-Devil-White-City-Madness/dp/0375725601

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I thought about that World's Fair notion as well, but it seems that one of the powerful elements in current productions of Nut is a reference to the hometown. It's Nurenberg via San Francisco or Washington DC or New York or ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, to be fair, Chicago's world fair left a huge imprint on the city... And gosh,the other option of a gangster themed Nutcracker... Not sure where that would go... Rats, sure, but the Party?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, to be fair, Chicago's world fair left a huge imprint on the city... And gosh,the other option of a gangster themed Nutcracker... Not sure where that would go... Rats, sure, but the Party?

The Stahlbaums run a speakeasy, Drosselmeyer is a henchman/rival gang boss/undercover FBI (you pick), the party devolves in chaos and when Clara flees (into a snowstorm) she hits her head and winds up hallucinating the Land of the Sweets.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ooh, that's interesting. But saints preserve us from such a thing. The Siminov/Chemiakin chorus of singing dead children was quite enough for me, thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Does the Sugarplum Fairy become Bathtub Ginnie? (Quote fiction doesn't work on the phone. :-( .)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know enough Chicago-specific history to get the references right, but this could go in a couple different directions. Since the first act is a speakeasy, the second act needs to be a contrast, and yet someplace that it would make a sliver of sense that people would be dancing. A society party sounds too much like Cinderella -- the theater, perhaps?

Take it from here!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I learned about this approxiamately the same time the news broke out. I was excited until I fully become aware that, thanks to this thread, the Nutcracker used before will now be long forgotten, that this December will be the last of almost anything remotely authentically Joffrey.

Long time Joffrey attendees, how does that make you feel? I was really amazed by Wheldon's version of Swan Lake, and I wouldn't mind at all if Joffrey Ballet were to adapt his new Nutcracker for a North American premiere, but as its set narrative and choreography for Nutcracker as permanence?

I'm brand new to the ballet world so I don't have much an informed/insightful opinion on such a thing, but it doesn't really sit welll with me; it's just a feeling. As I read on the evolution of Joffrey, when Arpino died and as years passed, his ballet style slowly was chipped away. When Wheater took over the style took a nose dive - or so I read. It looks like Wheater is making Joffrey into his liking, slowly as it may be, and he does have the right to do it since he is Artistic Director, controlling what the company performs, its standards and its overall public face which all add to its reputation as a company when it is compared to other American ballet companies. He is there to shape the company's idenity - to keep whatever aspect he sees relevant or to tweak, if not outright change, other aspects in hopes for the comany's benefit.

Again, what do long-time Joffrey attendees and those who have followed the now Chicago company think? As one NYT commenter, "Amiblue," said -

I certainly understand why the Joffrey Ballet wants to stay current by hiring the seemingly tireless Christopher Wheeldon to choreograph yet another new version of The Nutcracker. However, their version that was so lovingly staged by Joffrey and Gerald Arpino is a perfectly fine production and so distinctly part of the fabric of that company's identity, as is Balanchine's for the New York City Ballet, and unless the audiences are down, I see no reason to replace it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know if this life-long Chicagoan qualifies as a "long-time Joffrey attendee" or not - I do remember enjoying programs in the New York City Center including Petrouchka, Square Dance, Parade, and As Time Goes By, but I've rarely seen the company either in New York or Chicago. (Most recently, I saw them in Ashton's Cinderella, danced without authentic Royal style but still charming, it's so well made.) From this you might guess I'm not a fan of the ballets Joffrey and Arpino themselves made for their company, and you'd be right.

I'd already watched Balanchine's company dance his The Nutcracker (and still think it one of his best, which is very good indeed, in my book) when I saw a well-shot one-hour version of Joffrey's setting on television. I don't usually talk to my television, but this time I kept saying, "Listen! Just listen!" I was trying to talk to Robert Joffrey, who had not listened to Tchaikovsky like Balanchine did. Not nearly as well.

Not that I wanted Joffrey to imitate Balanchine; Balanchine's staging didn't look like an imitation of anything else, even when it was, as I found out later. (His "Candy Canes" and parts of "Sugar Plum" are taken from much older settings, evidently.) What made Balanchine's staging so great for me was that, as in his other ballets, he apparently took his instructions from his composer, at every instant; and then his dancers - his dancers - could look like the music was telling them how to move.

And it's for this reason that I'm optimistic about this news! I've only seen two of Wheeldon's ballets, Scenes de ballet and Polyphonia, and the latter showed he can hear his music really well sometimes. Not only in letting Ligeti tell him what to do in some detail, but in Wheeldon's arrangement of Ligeti's pieces into his own suite, so it told him what to make. A very perceptive ear, his. So this could come out pretty well on that score. (Yes. Pun intended.)

(Scenes had only a few phrases here and there that helped me begin to understand what all the noise about Wheeldon's arrival on the scene was about.)

As to the loss of the Joffrey version, there is that video. As for the Columbian Exposition connection, I suppose that may help to get money from those whose civic pride - or boosterism? - exceeds their appreciation for art. And as for the SF "Nut" I have only seen it in the PBS version, and I don't remember that the World's Fair aspect particularly intruded on a bland and uninteresting, not to mention meagerly decorated, staging. (Maybe making an appeal to the boosters went only so far.) Has it been made clear that the costumes Joffrey used are definitely out?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We'll agree to disagree, I think -- I like what I know of the Joffrey Nutcracker, and though I like Wheeldon's work, and am curious to see what he does with this oh-so-familiar score, I'm sorry to lose Joffrey's version to make way for this new one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only people who care about the same thing can disagree; otherwise it's a shrug, so disagreement is not all bad.

I'm not sure I'd travel for this premiere, but I can check out whether Wheeldon's Nut is a fresh collaboration with Tchaikovsky while sleeping in my own bed.

Tchaikovsky, of course, had Hoffmann's story in mind, and I shudder at the thought of someone trying to fit the action his music prescribes to a gangster narrative instead! (Is it worth adding that I don't get Morris's The Hard Nut at all?) But for those of us to whom Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker music may be familiar but never stale, continuing to be evocative, delighting with its great craft and variety, this must be an interesting prospect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Last night I attended the premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet!  The show was sold-out on a cold snowy night in Chicago , and the energy in the Auditorium Theatre was electric with anticipation!  The show opened with remarks from Ashley Wheater and Greg Cameron about how proud they were to begin this new Nutcracker tradition at the Joffrey.

 

The premise of the ballet differs from the traditional version – the ballet does not open to a grand party at the Stahlbaum mansion, but rather opens with Marie and other children milling around the grounds of the Chicago world’s fair in December 1892, five months before the fair began.  Marie and her brother Fitz are children of a single mother of a migrant worker at the fair, who appears to be a sculptor who creates a “queen of the fair” statue.  The opening lays the foundation of the story to come – rats run around on a fence, and a vagrant rat catcher grabs them before they can accost the children.  The opening scene also shows the discrepancy between the haves (well-dressed children) and have-nots (Marie and other children of migrant workers).

 

Eventually, Marie and Fitz return home to their mother, who is preparing for a party with other migrant workers.  The party begins with great character dancing of different countries, an homage to the homelands of the various workers.  The Great Impresario of the Fair arrives at the party (apparently to the surprise of Marie and her mother) with gifts for the children and a Christmas tree.  His apprentice, Peter, also attends.  Much of the plot unfolds the usual way from there – the Great Impresario gives Marie a  Nutcracker doll, it unfortunately breaks and is repaired, and Marie is smitten with Peter.  There was a fantastic shadow show with a small model of the fair behind a sheet lighting up as a full-sized moving fair, including a Farris wheel.

 

After the party, Marie and Fitz go to bed on the floor of the living room.  She awakes to rats coming into the house, and they drag Fitz away.  Fortunately, the Great Impresario and Peter arrive to battle the rats.  Although the battle plot line follows familiar lines, the stagecraft and lighting in these scene were absolutely spectacular.  The tree growing through a series of scrim movements and lighting design absolutely took my breath away.  In fact, I was not 100% paying attention to the dancing because I was so taken with the stagecraft. 

 

When the snow scene began, I could actually hear the snow hitting the stage.  The snow costumes for both the men and the women were absolutely beautiful, and the lighting again added so much to the scene.  The choreography was a bit unusual in some places – the women and men were moving their arms in an angled fashion, perhaps to evoke the angles of a snow flake.  To my delight, there were very young girls (approximately 6 years old) in the snow scene, which added to the vibrancy of the scene with approximately 30 people on stage.  At one point, the dancers formed two concentric circles, which was a visually pleasing and interesting formation.

 

As the curtain fell after the first act, I wondered whether I had ever enjoyed Act I of the Nutcracker so much, as I usually feel that the party and the battle are drudgery to endure to get to the “real dancing” in the snow scene and Act II.

 

As Act II opens, Marie, the Grand Impresario, and Peter arrive on the fairground in summertime.  Marie’s mother appears in a beautiful gold dress as the queen of the fair.  As with the Balanchine version, Wheeldon moves the Sugarplum Fairy variation to the beginning of Act II.  He does not retain any of the traditional choreography for this variation, but I still enjoyed it.  I will need to see it again next weekend before I can remark on any of the particulars of the choreography.  There were a lot of attitude derriere poses with the downstage arm raised, but I can’t recall much else about it.

 

 The various divertissements were hit and miss.  The Spanish dance was a solid, if not particularly remarkable start.  The Arabian dance, with two of my favorite dancers Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels, was absolutely fantastic!  The choreography was very sensual, and because Fabrice is 6’6”, Christine had to be at least 10’ in the air when he carried her on to the stage.  At the end of the variation, he carried her out on the back of his neck with no hands, which was quite remarkable.  They absolutely brought the house down!

 

The high of the Arabian dance made the low of the Chinese dance all the lower.  Only a single male dancer performed, with various pirouettes and entrechat six, accompanied by two sets of puppeteers with two large dragon puppets.  I really thought the number needed a bit more bravura action – perhaps a toe-touch, or just a couple more dancers to add some more energy to the number. 

 

The Russian/candy cane dance followed as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  Buffalo Bill appeared with three women and also performed some impressive batterie, but again did not have particularly flashy bravura moves.  He did however perform some very impressive rope tricks.  The audience seemed pleased at the end – perhaps I am being to harsh and simply need to see it again.  I just didn’t live up to the music for me.  It did not help that the dancer portraying Buffalo Bill, Dylan Gutierrez, is my least favorite dancer in the company due to his poor acting skills and his repeated disparagement of Chicagoans on his now-deactivated Twitter account.

 

I enjoyed the Venetian Masked Dancers (Marzipan/Mirlitons) who followed.  Nothing about the choreography stood out to me on the first viewing, but overall I found it pleasing.  The Mother Nutcracker dance that followed was particularly creative.  The dance began with eight children dressed as enormous walnuts who opened and closed their shells and a small army of nutcrackers who emerged from the Mother Nutcracker house attempted to capture them.  There was lots of laughter from the audience during this number!

 

 The Waltz of the Flowers was performed by glamorously dressed fair visitors, with plenty of gorgeous, fluid dancing by Marie and Peter.  I thoroughly enjoyed this number, although again, nothing about the chorography stuck with me in particular after the first viewing.

 

Finally, Marie’s mother and the Great Impresario performed the grand pas de deux.  I generally enjoyed it, although I found it somewhat unmusical at times.  For example, towards the end of the pas de deux where the music really builds before the cymbals crash, Marie’s mother and the Great Impressario were simply boureeing across the stage, without taking advantage of the drama of the music.  I need to see this again, but overall, the choreography left something to be desired on the first viewing.

 

The epilogue was lovely, with Marie waking up to her brother safe and sound and her mother making breakfast.  To her delight, the Great Impresario arrives to return the Nutcracker, adding some magic because she had clearly fell asleep with it in her arms the night before.  Her mother invites him to stay for breakfast, and he happily obliges.  The ballet ends with a complete family sharing a meal together, which was the object of Marie’s dream.

 

Overall, the production was absolutely delightful.  Well-tailored to Chicago, and definitely interesting enough to merit several additional viewings.  A word about the lead dancers.  Victoria Jaiani is my favorite dancer in the company with her incredible flexibility and musicality.  I have met her at open ballet classes at the Joffrey and on the public street, and she is just a kind and friendly person.  I thoroughly enjoyed her performance as Marie’s mother, which was technically clean and musically fluid.  I also enjoyed Miguel Angel Blanco as the Great Impresario – he doesn’t always get leading roles, but here he showed his capacity to carry a ballet, and he should certainly be given additional opportunities in the future.  Alberto Velazquez, formerly of the ABT Studio Company, was a capable and confident Peter, who supported Marie in every way and was a strong partner. 

 

Last and best of all was Amanda Assucena as Marie – her excellent acting, incredibly pliant back, and high arabesques made the evening an absolute delight.  The audience viewed the wonders of the fair through her eyes, and I can’t imagine a better Marie to carry the ballet.  I believe this is her third season at the Joffrey, and I look forward to watching her career grow here.  I have also met her in open class at the Joffrey, and she is absolutely jaw-dropping in the studio.  I give the ballet 3.5 stars out of 4 – with perhaps an extra ½ star to be awarded on further viewing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the incredibly detailed review! I had been awaiting reports.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Chicagoballetomane thank you for that wonderful and thoughtful review.  It sounds like a very interesting 1st Act.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many thanks for the review -- I've been very curious about this production and really appreciate the details.  I was particularly interested in this

 

Quote

There was a fantastic shadow show with a small model of the fair behind a sheet lighting up as a full-sized moving fair, including a Farris wheel.

 

I've seen a number of danceworks recently that have incorporated this technique.  It's very appropriate to the period in this example, but I just think the old-fashioned special effect is fascinating wherever it shows up.

 

I was taken with the "Parade of Nations" aspect of act 2.  It mirrors the original ballet, and was a favorite twist for Petipa and his colleagues, but it's dead-on for the Chicago fair setting here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In Iowa City, I saw the preview performance of Joffrey Nutcracker.  The musical acumen was perfunctory at best; the transitions were abrupt and thoughtless; the dancing was adequate.  Mostly it was a visual-effects show with minimal emphasis on both dance and music. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was underwhelmed myself.  (I saw the first two performances, the Saturday evening and the Sunday matinee).  The lengthy, encyclopedic Macaulay review

Quote

Yet this version becomes trite as you watch — not because of the Chicago setting but because no individual character is fresh. I couldn’t believe his heart was in this story. 

 

and the briefer Greskovic one (in the Wall Street Journal)

Quote

Mr. Wheeldon’s work here often remains so tied to Mr. Selznick’s storyline that it feels at odds with the score’s familiar and famous wonders. ...  

This “Nutcracker” for Chicago has much local color. Too bad its ballet aspects remain less colorful. 

 

said it pretty well.  The composer's wonderfully imagined scenario doesn't mesh at all well with Brian Selznick's - the score really implies a warm genteel interior at the beginning, not a scrappy construction site with petty theft going on - but this looks like a ballet by someone who's not listening closely (this time) with other content - or action - or distractions - piled in for a similarly inattentive audience.  Indeed, Macaulay called attention to early examples where Tchaikovky's score had to yield to Selznick's scenario; it was rearranged, re-orchestrated in a few numbers.   

 

At the matinee, the dark suits and expensive-looking dresses were much less in evidence than at the premiere, and next to me were a mother and two daughters; late in Act I the six year old reported she was bored, and her mother complained, "I'm an Orthodox Jew, and I want the magic of Christmas!", and laughed.  (You don't have to be an established critic to pin-point the problem.)  Too much "stuff" - visual effects to be sure, moving projections, including scenery - falling leaves, a forest of giant pine trees - and forecurtains.  

 

(Interesting that all that apparatus and technology can be taken on tour, e.g. to Iowa City; but then the Auditorium Theater itself is under-equipped by modern standards, so apparently it can be set up anywhere.)

 

It's not automatic that less is more, it depends what it is; but it can be, in the right hands.  The bodies were there - the performers were strong and sure if often inexpressive on stage (so far; these were the first performances) from the top of the huge cast right down to the bottom and into the pit.  My neighbor (with her daughters) wanted to see the Joffrey in something else, something more suited to them.  We believed they can show us what we hear.  That makes the magic.      

Edited by Jack Reed

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm curious to know if anyone here has seen the Matthew Bourne Nut, which I believe is set in an orphanage?  Wondering about any comparisons with this new version by Wheeldon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bourne's NUTCRACKER! is commercially available on dvd from Amazon and likely other sites.

and yes it's set in an orphanage, Macaulay's NYT rev. of Wheeldon's new version mentions this.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you rg -- I've been slacking off on the collecting for the last couple of years, saving money for other endeavors, and so I haven't been paying close attention to releases.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw the ballet again today, and I only enjoyed it more on the second viewing. I agree that the music does not match the action of the opening scene in front of the fence, by the remainder is quite musical. I even found the grand pas more enjoyable this time around. The audience was totally engaged where I was sitting. I look forward to seeing this production for years to come!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...